There’re very few summertime diversions as splendid and spectacular as tubing: a verdant voyage that takes one down a sometimes robust and rocky waterway that, at other bends and stretches, slows to a sluggish pace that allows you to examine the leaves in the trees above or the litter on the riverbank. Add to this a beer—a cold, refreshing, buzz-inducing beverage—and you have perhaps the most perfect way to while away a languorous day.
Thus, selecting the proper tubing beer can only enhance your experience. One might snort and say, “What beer isn’t the best for tubing?” But consider an afternoon of lovely tubing forgotten because you blacked out from slamming too many IPAs with amped-up ABVs, and you self-inflicted all sorts of scrapes and bruises when you were getting out of the tube and out of the river—plus you ceased to care about responsible beer disposal because you just weren’t thinking anymore.
So the right beer is important. Cans are ideal because you can crush them after you’re finished and dispose of them in a hard cooler (more on this later). A low ABV is essential—you’re going to be tubing for a couple hours at least, right?—but you don’t want a lawnmower beer that just bloats you. Also, your can is going to warm up once it’s out of the cooler, in the clear light of day, held firmly in your hand (assuming you don’t own a fancy tube with a cupholder); do you know what a warmNatty Boh tastes like? A can of creamed corn. Gross.
A well-made session beer, then, suits the occasion. Super-locally, you’ve got the entire lineup of canned beer from Union Craft Brewing: Balt Altbier, Duckpin Pale Ale, and Blackwing Lager, all of which clock in under 6 percent. And while we wouldn’t recommend knocking back Ozzys—er, Beazlys (coming out in the fall, 7.25 percent)—while gliding down the Gunpowder, we would point you to check out some of Sly Fox’s wares. The Pottstown, Pa., brewery contract-brews for the Brewer’s Art, and it makes tubing beers aplenty. TheHelles Golden Lager (4.9 percent), Phoenix Pale Ale (5.1 percent), and Pikeland Pils (4.9 percent) are all year-round products that you can find around town; look for the Grisette Working Class Ale (5.6 percent), Sly Fox’s summer seasonal, which is based on a style of beer traditionally made in a Belgian mining town and which uses some wheat in the mash. DC Brau, newly distributed in Maryland, also puts out excellent canned beers (to name two:the Public, the Corruption), but they mostly hover at 6 percent or just above, so you may want to limit how many you drink.
(Of course, you don’t have to stay local, and you can select your tubing beer based on its style: Kolschs, blondes, cream ales, and saisons are among the many fine, summer-appropriate beer styles.)
We won’t delve into the area tubing hotspots this year (see “Slow Ride,” Feature, May 24, 2006), but we will say a word about transporting your beer on your journey down the river. We’ve found a hard cooler works best, since a crushed can won’t damage its lining like it might a soft cooler. Last year, we rigged a spare inner tube with some rope so that the cooler floated alongside us, wedged into the tube, loosely tethered to our own tube. Your cooler-tube makes navigating the eddies and fallen trees and shallow patches a little more challenging, but that means a cold beer is all the more rewarding.